Johnsen to donate bonus to Indigenous Culture center

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UAF has paired up with Jones and Jones architecture to design the Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies center and park. These mock up designs will guide i the construction of the center. Photo courtesy of UAF website.

UA President Jim Johnsen has recently announced that he will be donating his performance bonus of $16,300 to the Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies Center on campus.

“I worked for three years at Doyon Limited before taking this position and while I was there I came to learn about the importance of Alaska native cultures for all of us here in Alaska,” Johnsen said. “As a non-native, working in a native owned corporation, it would have helped me a lot if I had had the opportunity as a student or even as a university employee to have learned about Alaska native cultures before then.”

The donation was announced Tuesday evening, Oct. 18, during the 50th Annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference.

58 donors have raised approximately $678,301 in private funds for the scholarship to date.

“One of my highest priorities as president of the university is to create critical space for the cultural and scholarly needs of our indigenous cultures,” Johnsen said during the announcement.

Fulfilling his previous pledge to gift his performance bonus to a university project or program, the donation was made in the name of Jim and Mary Johnsen.

The name Troth Yeddha is Athabaskan in origin. Troth translates to mean “wild potato” and Yeddha translates to “ridge”, referencing West Ridge which will be the location of the indigenous studies center.

“We need to provide an opportunity not only for Native students to continue to learn Alaska native languages and cultures as they do now,” Johnsen said. “But we need to expand opportunities for native and non-natives to learn more about Alaska Native cultures.”

The fundraising goal to complete the center is placed at $25 million. The project is set to be completed in two phases. Phase one requires $5 million to complete the park, which is in its beginning stages, and design the indigenous studies center. Phase two will require the remaining $20 million for the actual building of the indigenous studies center.

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The location chosen for the Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies Center is on UAF’s West Ridge between the Reichardt building and the Museum of the North. Photo courtesy of UAF website.

“I am particularly honored to be a part of this undertaking because it will create a center singularly focused on Alaska’s first peoples, and a physical sense of belonging for Alaska native students,” President Johnsen said.

Forrest Campnell, a senior studying Biochemistry and Spanish, has concerns about the building plan.

“I bet students would be more likely to attend UA campuses if the college would support students directly rather than sinking money into multi-million dollar projects that never get finished,” Campnell said.

Hannah Wing, a senior in biological sciences, has similar concerns about the allocation of these funds.

“It seems wrong that the president gets a raise every year that he doesn’t give directly back to student and program needs when we’re running out of money and faculty and programs are being cut all the time,” Wing said.

The concept of the park and indigenous studies center began gaining traction in 2002 when the university chose the open area between the Reichardt building and the Museum of the North as the location for the project. This was approved by the Board of Regents in 2008.

In 2010, the university, with the help of the architectural firm Jones and Jones, developed a plan for the park and the center.

“I see a beautiful facility that all of us can be proud of that’s opening and inviting and where people from all over Alaska can get together and learn from each other and teach each other,” Johnsen said. “I know that’s kind of idealistic but that’s how I think of it.”

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